What do you notice that’s different? ¿Qué notas en las calles o en casa?
My professors would often ask this question when discussing Spain’s political issues and cultural norms. My fellow classmates, like me, were also study abroad students and came from different parts of the world. We would talk about our different backgrounds and how that affected our own perspectives so that these regular discussions got us into the habit of becoming better critical thinkers.
BIG CITY, SMALL TOWN
Granada, the city I lived in, felt like a small town at times. My host mom knew the baker, storekeeper and the occasional passerby on the street. The small apartments made it easier and more convenient to talk to people, so she would just open her window and chat with the neighbors.
Spain also has laws that protect the family. It’s difficult to get a marriage license in Spain, which makes a couple really think about their decision before they get married. Stores also shut down around 2 p.m. so that families can return home for a big lunch, even though it means that work may not end till 8 or 9 p.m.
This family-oriented theme continued to pop out to me. In Spain many families take walks and chat with their elderly grandparents (or parents), sometimes pushing a wheelchair. Every day, on my route to school, I would see at least one or two elderly men who were dressed better than most kids at prom. They wore suits and ties as casual attire, sometimes sitting together on benches or leaning on a polished cane. It was pretty impressive.
The class discussions, along with my personal experiences, shaped my perspective. Each interaction, such as going out for churros and chocolate with my host mom, added to my understanding of Spanish culture. In Spain and in several other spanish-speaking countries, churros are a popular breakfast or snack that can be served with chocolate or coffee.
Going out for coffee or churros and chocolate is almost a purely social activity. Waiters typically don’t rush customers, which makes it nice to talk with friends for a couple of hours. When I’d go out for coffee with my Spanish friends, sometimes they’d ask about the differences between the United States and Spain. I’d think about my class discussions, my own observations from just walking down the street, or socializing with my host family. Everything is just a little bit different.
I had these conversations so often, I began noticing more about my surroundings and interactions. Noting these cultural differences and similarities as I walked down the streets or interacted with friends almost became a game at times, or a switch that I couldn’t turn off.
Following are some observations about Spanish customs and norms:
- Sobremesa is a Spanish custom where family and friends chat after a meal to spend time together.
- You have to let others know if you’re the last person waiting in line, or else get skipped altogether.
- You can’t find many cookbooks in the stores. In general, Spaniards don’t rely on recipes or cookbooks.
- Slippers (called zapatillas) should always be worn in the house. Avoid walking barefooted, or risk getting strange looks.
- Every family is different, but in general Spaniards are careful with how much energy they use. Electricity and water are very expensive.
- Dalmatians are a popular breed and dogs often walk without leashes in the city.
- Stretching in public can be considered rude, but staring at someone is more acceptable than in the United States.